Thursday, August 18, 2011
Viktor Bout was the kind of man--before his arrest and extradition, at least--whom capitalism is supposed to liberate. He was an inventive special forces operative, linguistically brilliant, who made the best of a bad situation: governmental collapse. He liberated billions of dollars worth of material and funneled it into private hands, employing nothing but his own ingenuity and the laws of supply and demand. What others wanted, he offered, but not for free. What had once been fastened under a statist thumb, he delivered to thousands of desperate hands. If only he had been on the Right Side of History, he'd be a hero.
I could brood over the hypocrisy of American prosecution, given two main points: they have armed opposing sides before, mostly notably in Iran-Iraq; and they have also traded with Bout previously, in supporting the occupation of Iraq. I could discuss the clearly mercenary legacy of capitalization of the former Soviet Union of which Bout is only a small part. Oh, and there's also the fact that the United States is the world's biggest arms dealer, which is actually another point of hypocrisy and a clear example of our rulers' doctrine of exclusive right to violence. As far as what I could talk about, I could go on for a while.
What I do want to consider here is what place a man like Viktor Bout might have in a lawless world. It is very well to see the state's hand in this. Until his capture, he benefited from state protection and his very development as an alleged arms dealer owes almost everything to the politics of the great powers, in the implosion of the Soviet Union through post-colonial civil war to the perpetual discord stoked by America's Middle East policy.
That said, I reject the utopianism of anarcho-pacifism. States engage in war because they operate on human psychology. There is much they have introduced in the course of advancing war and warping it to shift the purpose of domestic stability while destabilizing potential or imagined rivals abroad. And that said, there is nothing to suggest that war will cease when the state does. In fact, given the disconnect of popular sentiment from the borders and boundaries designed by estranged state actors, I should say that I see no possibility of peaceful revolution worldwide. Any anti-authoritarianism established will see threats from within and without. Nationalist movements will perhaps flare up even more brightly given how deep the impulse goes and how persuasive it is in a world where all internationalism has been wedded to the injustice imposed by the great powers. International stability is part of the structure. Accepting the sovereignty of all states--and imposing by force their protection, albeit with notable exceptions--serves the forces that drew up those states!
And so I argue that war will continue. This may not be avoidable. This does not invalidate the support of human liberation. And yet it has interesting implications if we consider a man like Viktor Bout.
He benefited from state stockpiles, this is true. And yet I wonder if arms stockpiles will ever cease while there are factories and regions that excel in their manufacture. I wonder if men with such access to these stockpiles will always deal with any army with capital or barter to offer.
Is this wrong?
What does anarchism have to say to independent arms merchants who deal with all comers? Is this not a form of peaceable conduct and trade? The establishment of a free market quickly silences the response that he benefited from a state-imposed black market, as it would make it only easier for forces to arm themselves and brutalize others accordingly.
Is there a way to avoid this? Is mutual armament and, frequently, mutual extermination simply part of the price of our would-be freedom?
We see the response of states to Viktor Bout and it reeks of hypocrisy. What would any of us say to him, were he to continue his work in a world very unlike our own, but still driven by the same human violence and ambition?